After years of exile, deprivation and harshness, some kindness is shown to two young girls cursed by having had politically tarnished parents, leading to a protracted period in Siberia.  The elder sister, Vladya, had tuberculosis, picked up while living quite literally in a hole in the ground.  

Here, the younger sister, Maria, describes a moment when she was being passed through a state foster centre, and a nurse, scrubbing the orphan down, saved her from slipping to the concrete floor.  And in so doing, in a moment of spontaneous affection, hugged the child and said a few sweet words to her. 

See what this can mean to a child used to living without love. 

I also remember Maria Petrovna Aristova, a respected teacher who’d visit our Vladya in the hospital in Moscow.  We weren’t related to her or anything… She’s the one who brought Vladya back to our village, who carried her home … Vladya couldn’t walk anymore.   Maria Petrovna would send me pencils and candy and write me letters.  And in the temporary foster center, when they were washing and disinfecting me … I was sitting on a high bench … all covered in foam. I could have slipped and broken my bones on the cement floor.  I started slipping … sliding down … and a woman I didn’t know … a nanny … caught me in her arms and embraced me: “My little chickadee.”


I saw God.  

See another example of the power of kindness, when she finally finds a relative and a loving home. 

Source: interview with Maria Voiteshonok, in Svetlana Alexievich, Secondhand Time: The last of the Soviets, trans. by Bela Shayevich (New York: Random House, 2017), p. 235

Photo credit: Andrae Ricketts at unsplash


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